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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A History of Paradise
When I was a kid, growing up in New York City, I spent 50 weeks of the year waiting for the two weeks we spent at Seaside Heights, New Jersey, every summer. Those two weeks were magical. The beach and the water, the girls, the frozen custard and sausage heroes, the girls, the boardwalk and the pinball machines, the girls, the rides and games. Did I mention the girls? The whole experience was beyond time and place, beyond reality. It was paradise on earth.
Over the years, I've "collected" a lot of other beaches, from Bávaro Beach in the Dominican Republic to Bundoran, County Donegal, in Ireland. I've also collected a long shelf of books about beaches and the history of beach resorts, but The Beach: The History of Paradise of Earth by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker instantly became one of my favorite books on the subject.
The Beach is a serious book about a fun and fascinating subject. The authors, who are married, are no air-headed beach bums. Lencek is a professor of Russian at Reed College and Bosker is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Yale. They're serious people. But they know where the fun is.
And they know an awful lot about beaches and how they got that way. They begin at the beginning...the very beginning, with the lands and the seas forming on the planet, with wind and wave wearing away at rock and eventually forming sand. Did you know that the sand at Miami Beach, as shown by radiocarbon dating, averages 13,000 years old, with some material in it as much as 30,000 years old?That'sancient history you have there between your toes.
While going to the beach for sun and surf seems the most obvious and natural thing in the world to us, it wasn't always so for our ancestors. Through most of history, the place where land and sea meet was viewed as sinister and threatening, a wild place at the edge of civilization, and often a place where wars were won or lost. Our concept of the beach is relatively recent, and Lencek and Bosker chronicle the history of events and the evolution of attitudes that brought it about.
Along the way, they also provide details on the people — from Ponce de Leon on the Florida coast to Coco Chanel on the Riviera — and the history of hotels and resorts, fashion and swimwear, social customs, sports, ecological awareness, casinos, tourism — everything, in other words, that has affected the story of the beach or been reshaped by it.
For good measure, the text is liberally decorated with wonderful illustrations of everything associated with the beach — touching, nostalgic, and often funny photos, cartoons, paintings, ads, and posters, all depicting the wonders and leisurely pleasures of life at the shore. And they're all right there on the page, where they belong, not in separate sections. It's actually a lot of work to do this, and all praise to the publisher for doing it right. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book.
I can think of a couple of things I would have liked to see mentioned here that aren't, like Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, where beach culture is an integral part of the city's life, but maybe I'm just crabby because I haven't been to the beach for a while myself.
The Beach was published in the summer, no doubt intended as beach reading. Now, with winter coming on, I think it's even more entertaining and thought-provoking.
To tell the truth, it makes me want to go to the beach.
— Alan Ryan, barnesandnoble.com